Art for Arts Sake

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 7 September 2007

I couldn't get back to sleep after I heard the sound of running water, it was, in fact, Jim pressing an indigestion table out of it's silvery tray - too much Bordeaux last night - it was 5.30 and since he fell immediately back into somnabulent unconsciousness I decided to get up. The dog didn't notice me so I had the morning to myself. I pulled on my leggings, and running vest, quietly tied the laces on my trainers, delicately took the chain off the door,and set off for a 30 minute run. London at 5.30 in the morning is stunning. It's nearly dead quiet. The only people I met, and that was on my way back, was a Latin chamber maid, no I don't know whether she was a cleaner, I just assumed she was. Not a good idea she may have been a lecturer in South American Anthropology at the British Museum for all I know, but I'm a terrible one for stereotyping always happily waiting to be proved wrong. Since we were the only people around we said 'Hello' to each other. I passed a man and his dog, and since there were no other dog walkers around we also said 'Hello' to each other Then a black guy, with a ruck-sack, straight backed, high knee action with the grace of a Watusi warrior, ran past me. I wondered if he was Kenyan and whether he had ever entered The Marathon, yes I know another stereotype, but Kenyan's do have a great track record.

I decided to run through Battersea village, as it was still dark and I had just the tiniest presentiment that somebody may leap out of the bushes on the Riverside walk. The square was silent. Only the sound of Mr. P opening up the corner shop. Past the Gothic houses on the left, past the Post Office then instead of running down to the Buddha in Battersea Park I decided to run over Battersea Bridge.

I had seen a woman running over it yesterday, and decided it was time to give myself a complete change of perspective. It felt great knowing I was running over the river. Just me jogging along, with the Thames slopping around under my feet and ust a pile of concrete between me and the murky depths. As the sun came up I took a deep breath and could smell the ozone. The river was very still, not a police launch in sight, and there was hardly any traffic on the roads. I turned left off the Bridge and ran past a flotilla of moored house-boats. A prettier fleet of maritime merriment is yet to be seen. Green tugs, tourquoise sloops, jolly skiffs and barges, settled in the mud all ship shape and Bristol fashion. The lamps along the walkway are all numbered. By the time I reached 100 I decided to turn round and run back. The traffic was just building up. And then I noticed, nestled in a leafy grove a statue. I had never seen it before, I did a u-turn, nearly tripping up on a wet leaf, to have a closer look. John Abbott McNeill Whistler stood handsomely on a high plinth, book in hand, overlooking the south side of the Thames. I wondered why he was there at all since he was a Yankee. Good old Mr.Google came up trumps, Mr. Whistler had indeed lived in Chelsea,built himself a house on Tite Street, bankrupted himself but through his wit and perspicacity arose, phoenix-like, to leave a remarkable artistic legacy. He signed all his paintings with a butterfly and said of his failure in a chemistry exam at his American Military school, 'If sillicon were a gas I would have been a general one day.' I've always said that if I were four stone lighter, 7 inches taller the issue of the French Bourjoisie as opposed to Lithuanian peasants I would be a prima ballerina with a 16inch waist and a banker for a husband but, hey ho...

Half way across the bridge the bells of Chelsea Old Church chimed the hour. It was 6.o'clock. There wasn't an aeroplane, a car, a train or a scooter to impede the sound. In that split second 2007 ceased to exist. I could have been running over the wooden bridge that Mr.Whistler had so elegantly painted back in1859. I started to cry, not a lot, but enough to have to wipe my nose on my arm. Now that it was lighter I decied to do the river walk. The reflections on the river were breath taking. Perfect mirror images of arches, warehouses, the blue lights of a building in Wandsworth as peacock blue on the river as they were in real life. Past St. Mary's Church where Turner painted his river scenes and alongside seagulls pecking at the waters edge as if they had been dropped in a perfect pattern. Little white dots on the shore line. I thought how arty I was getting, since last night I went to see Sean Roggs exhibition in Wapping.

The venue is stunning, an old hydraulic plant. The massive pipes have been left intact, and very imposing they are too, tables set near them.The restaurant is uber trendy and the manager-ess, uber rude. The food was a combination of posh bites like duck tart with mash and wild mushrooms for 16.50 or small fry like fried potatoes and bowls of sugar snap peas dowsed in garlic and lemon for 2.80, obviously I Iopted for a pea.

The Wapping Project is grand and Wapping is so gentrified now I hardly recognised it. When Jim and I lived there 20 years ago we paid sixteen quid a week rent and mingled with the ex dockers and ship workers. Now the waterfront properties are inhabited by ex-rockers and ship-brokers. But the exhibition was terrific. No more than ten of us were taken down some stairs into a huge space. 1,000 bottles, from around the world, stood in pairs on a horse shoe shaped table which straddled three sides of the room. Not one bottle was out of line. In the centre of the room a perfect square of light shone in which Sean Rogg, the artist, stood, besuited and silent. An ambient sound track played as an imposing video screened a film loop of 84 water bottles being opened. A hand unscrewed the first bottle then another until all 84 bottles were undone, by the time all the bottles had been opened the hand then dissappeared, leaving 84 bottles standing still - well some of them were sparkling to be fair. We were told to take a glass from a table with a sign saying 'Clean Glasses' and to choose a drink from any one of the 1000 bottles. I chose some Ramlosa since Sean said it was his favourite tipple on last week's show. Imogen, a blonde girl, with a deadpan face opened up the bottle. She wore white latex gloves the better to help her unscrew the cap, but in the event she had to ask Tim, Sean's brother, who was filming the event, to open the bottle for her. She nearly smiled but just managed to stop herself in time. I drunk a glass then left. For some reason it brought tears to my eyes, that was the exhibition not the water. I know, weeping in Wapping and balling in Battersea, must be all that alliteration.

But it did feel like a religious experience. Denise, a dead clever human rights lawyer also found it deeply moving, something to do with water and spirituality, the music and the atmosphere. You should try and go.

Anyway I was thinking about how arty I was being and wondered what I should title this blog. I thought something like 'Whistle for me', or 'When did you last see your Whistlers mother' and then it came to me I would call it 'Art for Art's sake'. Bugger me right there in black and white - which John Abbott Mcneill Whistler would have approved of preferring to experiment with colour rather than realism - Wikipedia said that old whistling boy himself subscribed to the philosophy of 'ART FOR ARTS SAKE' I tell you the hairs on my bikini line stood up.

Then a geezer on a moped pootled past me by the corner shop, he was wearing a crash helmet and has mouth was open in a Munch like scream (enough with the art already) he was in fact yawning. And I thought can you still see when you yawn or do your eyes close involuntarily like when you sneeze and then I remembered reading that yawning reveals how empathetic you are with other humans. If they yawn you yawn. So, I dutifully yawned. It was still only 6.15 so when I got back I peeled off my sweaty gear, put on a tee-shirt and my pyjama trousers, meditated, had a mug of hot lemon juice, on the advice of Sean's grandmother (who is 89 but looks 59) and was heading back to bed when the daughter got up to go to work. We talked, she left, I took Jackson out and all that wonderfull arty stuff diassappeared in a wash of real life. Which to be perfectly honest is just as good. have a lovely day, if it hasn't already started.. cul8r

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes


1. At September 9, 2007 11:51 AM Rhianon wrote:

That was lovely. It's a pleasure to read your words. You take us along your journeys well, you know.
I've just returned from a weeks hard labour in north Wales. Having passed my driving test 20 years ago but never driven since, I took a refresher course. Then bought a car and last week drove from home, which is Neath, to Y Felinhelli, which is near Caernarvon. A long way for me! Yesterday I drove back. Didn't collide with anthing, scrape anything, or give anyone appoplectic fits! But taking aged parents who bicker constantly and expect to be waited on hand and foot, cooked for and pandered to, is no way to spend a holiday. So reading your account of your last few days was more of a holiday than lsat week! Thanks!! I have to say though, the mountains in Snowdonia are majestic. The way the light through the trees shone dappled on the fields, the purple heather ranging over the slopes of Beddgellert, the way it stops your breath at every new wonder, it's timeless. As you say about the statue of Whister, it could have been any time.
I read once that the celts were people who loved dusk and dawn, neither light nor dark, as it was the 'time between times' and places like esturies, which were neither wet or dry, but 'the place between places'. Nice phrases.

2. At September 9, 2007 4:33 PM Chrissie carcassonne wrote:

I am getting home sick. You write so well.
Istn't there something special about water? Rivers. The sea. I guess a bit like looking into a log fire. Timeless.
As ever
Chrissie Carcase x

3. At September 10, 2007 11:13 AM Emma - Chocmonster wrote:

How come this latest installment is dated 7th December 2007?

Have I slept through a couple of months? Hope not as that would mean I've missed my holiday!

Anyone got tips on where to eat in Monterey, California?

4. At September 10, 2007 4:42 PM Yorkshire terrrier wrote:

Did ya mean 7th September Jen?

5. At September 10, 2007 11:04 PM Natalie Jones wrote:

Hi Jen

Great blog as usual. Just wondering if you have seen any of Hell's Kitchen?

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